Continued from last post . . . So what exactly is this Deleuze-on-Rousseau concept anyway? For someone who understands Deleuze’s work, it’s actually of a piece with what we all know about his philosophy already. While it’s an ordinary approach in the context of Deleuze scholarship and the wider philosophical explorations that have flowed from his work, I feel safe saying that it’s a novel or at least strange idea in the context of Anglo-American contractarian political philosophy.
|What should Rousseau's own concerns|
have to do with how we understand his
So “the state of nature” is the term for humanity’s imagined pre-social state in which the contract occurs. How a thinker imagines what the state of nature would have been like will influence the core principles of political association that he develops in his theory. Thomas Hobbes, the first social contract theorist, conceived of the state of nature as a “war of all against all,” where the strong strove to dominate the weak but the weakest was always strong enough to kill the strongest.* So Hobbes conceived of the state and political association as primarily about grounding and maintaining physical security.
* That last phrase, succinctly summarizing the key dynamic of Hobbes’ state of nature, is Deleuze’s own phrase, which I consider a bit of a cheap shot against the haters who say everything he wrote was obscure claptrap.
The central postulate of social contract, however, was that it was always an imagined contract, a thought experiment to isolate what principles should be fundamental to political activity and philosophy. Empirically speaking, humans have always been social creatures, and no one has ever agreed to form society per se as a historical event.
Yet Deleuze: in Rousseau’s thinking, the state of nature is real, and it exists all the time.
|No, not this Genesis. That's from Star Trek.|
** Another wonderful part of studying Deleuze’s thought and writing is how he fluctuated his terms. He adapted his language to the problems that he faced, and toyed with a variety of different expressions of the same fundamental ideas. If he thought one term didn’t work so well in a recent publication, he’d change the expression in a new work. This makes hell for conventional authors of secondary philosophical material (books on philosophy, as I said yesterday), because of the tendency in that mode of writing to systematize and unify a primary author’s vocabulary, problems, and concepts. Because Deleuze is so flexible in his expression, he frustrates this intellectual desires. Good on him.
|No, not this Genesis either.|
Deleuze concentrated his writings largely on understanding this concept of genesis and differentiation. As such, he mutated Rousseau into a tool to help explain a philosophy of genesis. His brilliance as a historical reading was retroactively creating a tradition of genesis theory out of his creative interpretations of philosophy.
It wasn’t accurate to the intended meanings of the texts he examined, but they were meticulous and insightful interpretations of these historical figures on his own terms. It’s an impressive feat of philosophical reasoning and interpretation, how a man with one lung could still put on an impressive gymnastics show, the only tightrope walking he could do. And it taught readers another angle to think about the philosophy of genesis. As long as you know precisely what he’s doing, there’s no need to take issue with it. Deleuze was a brilliant man.